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Business caters to skateboard enthusiasts

CHARLESTON (AP) — If Trace Corley has gained anything from his years of skateboarding, it’s persistence.

If you can’t nail a trick on the first try, keep practicing. If you fall down, get back up.

“You just have to keep trying until something works,” he said.

Corley, 25, has applied the same ethic to his custom clothing and skateboard brand Gnarleston Goods.

He started the brand two years ago to produce limited-run skateboards, T-shirts and hats. Since then he’s had boom times and long, quiet stretches.

At times, he’s considered throwing in the towel. Just a few months ago, he was ready to give up.

“It was one of those ‘Oh nobody likes me’ type of things,” he said.

Corley was pouring all of his energy into the business, stressing over new designs and sales. But interest in his products was stagnant.

“It eventually hit me. I was doing what everybody was wanting me to do. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do anymore. I was making myself sick.”

So like any good skateboarder, he steeled his nerves and tried again.

Now he’s not worried about making lots of money or having lots of stock on-hand. Corley says he’s not trying to make Gnarleston Goods more of a boutique, rather than a major manufacturer, so he only makes two or three of each shirt design. Many of his hand-made, five-panel hats are one of a kind.

His custom-designed skateboards come in slightly larger runs — he orders 25 at a time from a manufacturer on the West Coast — but once the designs are gone, they’re gone.

Corley said the limited runs makes products more meaningful to customers.

“You get to wear something that means something to you, or you get to ride something with a meaning behind it,” he said.

It also helps Corley steer clear of a burn-out.

“I can stay fresh. Everything can be new.”

He’s stopped worrying about making money, too. Gnarleston Goods is Corley’s hobby, something to occupy his time after he gets home from work at Enterprise Car Sales.

But he’s also using the project to teach himself how to run a business. He keeps meticulous records of his finances, making note of every dollar he spends on supplies, every shirt he sells and every board he gives to a friend.

“My main goal, before I’m dead, is to open up a legit skate shop downtown. If I’m 60 years old and my retirement money comes in, that’s what I’ll do to keep me occupied.”

Corley took his first crack at small business back in 2008. He came up with an idea for a skateboarding brand, “304 Skateboarding,” drew up a design and had 75 shirts prints. He sold quite a few but interest soon dropped off.

Two years ago, he started thinking about trying again. Some of his friends were less than supportive, but Corley said his mother encouraged him to press on.

“Some people were like, ‘Dude it’s not worth it. It’s not going to work.’ She was just like, do whatever you think is right,” he said.

He went to the bank, got a small loan and ordered 25 skateboards emblazoned with his “Gnarleston Goods” logo.

Corley then decided to move back into clothing. But instead of printing T-shirts, he wanted to make custom-designed pocket shirts.

His mother gave him a sewing machine and his girlfriend’s grandmother taught him how to sew.

Before long, Corley decided to try his hand at head wear. He found a pattern for a five-panel ball cap online and fired up the sewing machine. The project turned out to be more difficult than expected.

“I almost gave up because it’s the most annoying thing I’ve ever tried in my life,” he said.

Corley’s skateboarding ethos kicked in, however, and he soon mastered all the difficult stitching the project requires. He said he worried for a while the hats didn’t look as good as the hats he saw in stores, but eventually realized that is part of their charm.

“They look hand-made. I like that.”

He continues to design new skateboards. His newest board is a parody of a certain chewy marshmallow candy, re-imagined as “Gnarleston Chew.”

Corley sells the boards for $40 apiece. Older designs go for $35. He said he doesn’t try to make money on his skateboards, only charging enough to recoup his costs, because he wants to provide fellow skaters with high-quality, cool-looking boards.

Corley said his main goal with Gnarleston Goods is to support Charleston’s small skateboarding scene.

“It’s out of love,” he said.

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